By: Drs. Connie Scuccimarri, Catherine Serra-Poirier and Yves Beaulieu, psychologists at The Montreal Children’s Hospital
Being a parent is an important role that is often rewarding, but also challenging. In our work as psychologists at The Montreal Children’s Hospital (The Children’s), we often focus on five key areas of parenting to improve relationships and decrease family stress
1. increasing awareness,
2. understanding emotions,
4. problem-solving, and
5. checking in.
Modifying parental interactions with a child/teenager to promote emotional growth and enhance relationships can result in positive changes in your child’s behaviour and help prevent future mental health difficulties.
First, increasing awareness that you and your child/teenager may act, think, and feel differently at various moments of the day is important. Understanding how this affects one another is key. We share with our words and our actions, but also with our facial expressions, tone of our voices, etc.
Next, understanding emotions is essential. We experience a great number of emotions daily. They provide important information about something that is happening within yourself or about a situation.
Some can be uncomfortable and result in physical sensations, like a stomach ache. Others may lead to negative thoughts such as, “I’ll never understand math!” We tend to want to get rid of emotions. For example, fear may lead to avoidance of a particular situation. When a child is experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, adults tend to quickly try to reassure them or fix the situation by offering solutions.
This is normal and can help in the short-term, but we want our children to be confident to feel and cope with different emotions and solve their own problems in the long-term. Therefore, the next steps are important.
Validating means showing our children that we care, we understand their emotion, and think it makes sense. Validating your child’s feelings tells them they are important enough for you to spend the next few minutes together to figure out what emotion they are feeling and help them name it. Your child will feel calmer and reassured once they know you understand. You can say: “I can see that you are angry that you have to stop playing video games. I understand it’s frustrating.”
After naming the emotion and normalizing it, your child may be in a better place to start problem-solving. You can facilitate this process by asking them their ideas on how to solve the problem or give them options. Spending calm time together by giving them a hug may also help your child become aware of their thoughts and feelings and how to cope with them.
Checking in is another way that can help improve your relationship with your child. This can be a time you set aside daily where you give your child your undivided attention. They may share information on what they liked, disliked, found difficult or are grateful for. It is important to be sensitive to your child’s preferences and modify your actions consequently. You will both benefit from these moments spent together and it will help you and them prepare to face future challenges.
When these parenting strategies are applied in a consistent manner, interactions with your child/teenager will improve. Applying these tips will help them feel loved and secure. In addition, it can help your child learn how to enhance their relationship with you and others. It may also decrease overall anxiety because interactions will become more predictable.
If you are having difficulties communicating and interacting with your child, remember you are not alone. It can be hard to ask for help with our child/teenager. We tend to think we should be able to solve our problems within our family. But keep in mind that professionals are available to help you sort through these issues in an objective manner.
You can visit your local CLSC for help or call the Info-Social line at 811. Speaking to your family doctor may also help. Should the situation between you and your child/teenager become dangerous, do not hesitate to go to the nearest emergency room.
This article is the second in a 12-part monthly series focused on child and youth mental health. The articles are a partnership between Montreal Community Contact, The Montreal Children’s Hospital and The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. Please help The Montreal Children’s Hospital get its young patients back on their feet and bursting with energy again. Donate: Fondationduchildren.com.